If you’re looking for a job in dentistry but don’t fancy years and years of training or actually doing the drilling, poking and pulling, you could look into becoming a dental hygienist. These heroes of the dental world educate patients in the care of teeth and gums as well as giving their teeth a professional clean.
The clue is in their name: dental hygienists are all about oral hygiene. They form the vanguard of the preventative side of dentistry. Whilst dentists might treat problems, dental hygienists work hard to ensure that oral problems or diseases don’t happen in the first place.
A huge part of this is scaling and polishing patients’ teeth with professional equipment and applying topical fluoride and fissure sealants. They also teach and encourage good oral hygiene.
Salary & benefits
Starting out as a dental hygienist, you could be looking at a salary of between £21,000 and £28,000 a year. More experienced dental hygienists might net between £33,000 and £39,000 a year.
Most dental hygienists work pretty typical hours during the week. Occasionally, they might be required to work in the evenings or on the weekend. Those working in hospitals might have more irregular hours and work shifts.
Those working in the community dental service will visit patients and health centres, but most dental hygienists will be stationed in one practice. It is possible to become a self-employed hygienist; in that case they might see patients in a variety of locations.
If you want to become a dental hygienist you’ll probably need five GCSEs (A-C), including a biological science and English. You’ll also need at least two A levels in science subjects or a dental nursing qualification.
These qualifications will help you get a place on one of the following General Dental Council (GDC) approved higher education courses:
- A foundation degree in oral health science
- Diploma in Dental Hygiene
- Diploma in Dental Hygiene and Dental Therapy
- BSc in Oral Health Science
- BSc in Dental Therapy and Dental Hygiene.
Otherwise, dental hygienists need excellent communication skills and a friendly, approachable manner. They should have an interest in science, anatomy and physiology and a steady hand for all those delicate procedures.
Training & progression
With an approved course in the bag, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check under your belt and registration with the GDC, you’ll be free to ply your trade.
Most dental hygienists find work within NHS or private dental practices. Others might work in the community dental service, specialist practices, dental schools or in the armed forces.
There’s not a huge amount of career progression, but dental hygienists can become self-employed or rise up in the ranks to become practice managers.
Some dental hygienist go on to train student dental hygienists, whilst others use their career as a springboard into a related area, such as orthodontic therapy.